Plan a Western U.S. Road Trip and Feel Like a Cowboy
Hopping in the car and going on a road trip is the ultimate way to explore the open spaces of the United States. For those intrigued by cowboy culture, there are several western states where ranches still play an important role in everyday life.
Cowboys tend to cattle, rodeos entertain locals, and it seems like everyone is an avid horseback rider. The immense size of the Western United States makes it near impossible to hit every cowboy mecca. That makes your starting point and driving route an important decision.
We got you covered, though! Follow this Western U.S. road trip and you’ll feel like a cowboy in no time.
Starting Location – Denver, Colorado
This road trip deep into the wild west of the United States begins in the Colorado capital. With a population of nearly 730,000 residents, Denver is one of the biggest and fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the United States.
Denver International Airport is one of the world’s largest airports and among the five busiest in the United States. With nearly 200 U.S. destinations, Denver is reachable from every corner of the country.
If you’d like to travel light for the duration of your road trip, store your extra luggage in Denver to save room for souvenirs on your journey.
Road Trip Highlights
This long-distance route spans three states where cowboy culture thrives as it did during the days of westward expansion. Scenic landscapes, wide-open spaces, and dude ranches make this road trip an epic adventure you have to see to believe.
The route starts in Denver and takes you through jaw-dropping sections of Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana before ending in Glacier National Park. Once you reach Montana’s crown jewel, you can fly back to Denver from Glacier Park International Airport or make the return drive.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Roughly 70 miles northwest of Denver, Rocky Mountain National Park is where you’ll start to delve into the dramatic landscapes of the Rocky Mountains. The Continental Divide runs through the park, and this alpine paradise offers tons of picturesque stops for a photo-op.
Marvel at snow-capped peaks, explore diverse microclimates, and spot all sorts of wildlife inside the park. You have miles of beautiful hiking trails at your disposal, and hair-raising drives, like Trail Ridge Road, take you to immense altitudes overlooking the region.
Colorado Dude Ranches
Experience the old west at one of Colorado’s many dude and guest ranches dotting the state. Spending a night or two on a ranch gives you an intimate introduction to the cowboy way of life.
Adventure surrounds you at every corner with thrilling activities such as mountain biking and fly-fishing. Saddle up to ride horses into the countryside or learn about the typical trades cowboys practiced to support their families. By nightfall, get ready to boogie country western style with a rip-roaring night of square dancing.
Colorado has well over two-dozen dude ranches to choose from, and each offers a unique glimpse into cowboy culture. Convenient dude ranch locations on your route include the Wind River Christian Guest Ranch, Sundance Trail Guest Ranch, and Cherokee Park Ranch.
Attending a rodeo in Wyoming will have you on the edge of your seat, and you’ll soon realize why this is called the “Cowboy State.” Rodeos play a big aspect in everyday life in Wyoming, and you’ll find these entertaining spectacles in most towns.
Watch bull riders, rodeo clowns, and cow wranglers show off their talents and make sure you arrive dressed in the latest fashion. The last thing you want to do is stick out like a sore thumb during the main events.
Cheyenne Frontier Days is the king of Wyoming rodeos, and this annual event during the last week of July is billed as the “World’s Largest Outdoor Rodeo.” The Wyoming capital is only 90 miles north of Rocky Mountain National Park, and the ideal spot to immerse yourself in the state’s rodeo culture.
Other Wyoming towns that make excellent rodeo pit stops on this road trip include Thermopolis, Ten Sleep, and Cody.
Yellowstone National Park
This road trip wouldn’t be complete without at least a few days exploring America’s first national park. Yellowstone was established in 1872, and the park is renowned for its geothermal activity. Sites like Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, and Mammoth Hot Springs attract visitors from all parts of the world.
Yellowstone’s diverse landscapes include soaring mountains, rocky cliffs, deep canyons, and scenic lakes. Underneath the park lies the Yellowstone Caldera, one of the world’s largest super-volcanoes.
Don’t be surprised to bump into lots of wild animals during your travels and always be alert for your safety. Bear, bison, and wolf sightings are common, and some visitors have been injured due to foolish behavior.
Montana Cattle Ranches
Cattle ranching may be a thing of the past for many parts of the United States, but Montana is not one of those places. Cowboy culture is alive and kicking with cattle ranching impacting every facet of life in the state.
For an authentic Montana experience, put on your cowboy boots and join ranchers who work tirelessly on the farm. A visit to a working cattle ranch is an exhilarating opportunity to see what it’s like to reel in cattle.
Ride horses, join cattle drives, and ensure the livestock remains in healthy condition while gazing at Montana’s famous big skies. Some of the best ranches to experience the cowboy lifestyle include Cross-Triangle Ranch, Flynn’s Hideaway Ranch, and G Bar M Ranch.
Glacier National Park
The final destination on your road trip is Montana’s Glacier National Park, known as the “Crown of the Continent.” Feast your eyes on craggy peaks, glacial lakes, alpine forests, and one of America’s most famous drives.
The Going-to-the-Sun Road is the park’s main attraction for its unfathomable views of the Continental Divide. Although the road is only around 50 miles in length, it will likely take you several hours to complete the drive.
Glacier National Park is a hotbed of wildlife, and you’ll find hundreds of species roaming throughout the park. Moose, grizzly bears, deer, cougars, mountain goats, and hundreds of birds are all found within the park.